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All the Rage

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

Martin Moran
Photo by Joan Marcus.

If it accomplishes nothing else, Martin Moran's new one-man show All the Rage, which just opened at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater, addresses an issue that's been burning in the hearts and minds of intrepid confessional theatregoers for nearly nine years: How did this man wrench himself from the grip of unthinkable anger?

Moran's 2004 solo outing The Tricky Part movingly documented his childhood of sexual abuse, and the role that experience played in shaping the person he'd eventually become. But what was left out of it—by design, it now seems clear—was a probing examination of how he didn't let it corrode him from the inside out, and how he faced every day with the knowledge that his life wasn't necessarily all it could have, or should have, been. He'd found grace and some form of serenity, but what had he given up in the bargain?

It's a compelling question, and as long as Moran sticks closely to it, All the Rage itself is compelling. Spurred by a confrontation with his caustic stepmother at his father's funeral, he describes a litany of events structured around dissecting the feelings most of us try to avoid displaying in public. His personal journey passes through the Broadway production of Spamalot (avoidance theatre at its most overt), volunteering as a French translator for African refugees, and dealing with the tragic death of his always-angry younger brother.

The accumulation of the lessons he learns, the people he meets, and the self-exploration that results in a deeper recognition of why he's reacted as he has to the obstacles he's encountered, does land dramatically. And Moran's easygoing manner and casual line deliveries, in which every word seems to float out of his mouth on either a smiling or a frowning shrug, hammers home the overarching notion of acceptance that's his true theme here. It's therefore appropriate, if still unsettling, that the molester from Moran's first play fills such a vital role here, too. That chapter, we come to understand more succinctly than we ever have, will never be completed.

What The Tricky Part had that All the Rage does not, however, was a laser-focused through line that lent a much stronger air of theatrical necessity to proceedings that do not always cry out for the onstage treatment. If Moran's ultimate point in continuing that story this time is precisely detailed, his path to it seldom is. Key elements—such as the relationship Moran develops with one refugee who survived unthinkable torture, and a vacation Moran took to the cradle of humanity in South Africa—are loosely threaded in to the point of becoming digressions. Even more obviously aligned anecdotes, including a series of run-ins with perturbed drivers around Lincoln Center, come across as more awkwardly positioned to elicit the proper reactions than they do essential components of this tale.

As a result, it's difficult to become as involved in what Moran relates; it's just distant and scattered enough to seem constructed rather than natural, and that doesn't leave you much to wrap yourself in. Moran never stops working at earning your compassion and your trust, but his failure to invest the capital he receives, and his insistence on piling on more and more facts rather than making the most of the layers he's already revealed, even becomes off-putting once you start craving more resolution than he obviously intends to provide.

Fat though there may be around the edges of the evening, there's none to be found in Seth Barrish's staging. Both congenial and otherworldly, it draws upon both the mind and the heart to fashion an atmosphere in which there are no concretely set rules. Mark Wendland's dreamlike drawing-room set, which Russell H. Champa pointedly lights (in a number of cases with visible instruments Moran operates himself), underscores this, comprising things like a globe and maps of Africa and the New York City subway, to sharpen Moran's attack and smooth over his approach.

It's basically successful, but it imparts a stuffiness that only highlights the play's diffuse nature and, by extension, Moran's relationship with it. You walk away from All the Rage impressed with Moran's clarity and candor, but you're never affected by it as much as Moran and Barrish seem to be convincing you that you should be. They've established a smart and studied theatre piece that goes generally where it needs to go, but they haven't yet discovered how to make their work at least as emotionally enlightening as it is coolly educational.

All the Rage
Through February 24
Peter Jay Sharp Theatre, 416 West 42nd Street, 4th floor
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: TicketCentral

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